Reflective moments

I am interested in the emotions being expressed by students who are stressed and challenged by the University life. Distressed and confused they are often hypercritical of themselves, feeling helpless and powerless – confronted by high expectation, social comparison, academic assessment, financial issues, and an uncertain future self they become overwhelmed and wobble, cry and find it all difficult and struggle to cope. Responses and reactions to this distress vary greatly and the students’ help seeking behaviour is inconsistent and probably mediated by systems and processes within the University that might feel inhuman and create distance and inhibit rather than facilitate.

I believe that how we respond to student “wobbles” tells us a great deal about ourselves and the beliefs and attitudes we have towards emotional distress. I would suggest that  within any University system there is a tendency to label, pathologise, judge and refer onto someone else – the “wobbles” not an academic responsibility but an issue to be dealt with by professional staff, elsewhere.

Containing these emotions is tricky and requires specific skills and knowledge. The recent reports of high rates of mental ill health in University students may well be a function of the system rather than students being more vulnerable or less resilient than those in the past. Student wellbeing services are swamped by “needy” students and there seems to be a disconnect between learning and “wellbeing” issues. There is no doubt in my mind that they are interrelated and that a reciprocal relationship exists between the two.

I am digging deep to find ways of holding space for these students and finding a way to provide support, resources and sign posting for staff and students. I don’t believe we can see student wellbeing in isolation – it is linked to the wider community and needs mapping. That’s the next step and I am looking forward to the adventure.

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New Year

I’m not making any resolutions but I am determined to dig a bit deeper and not find myself burnt out and unemployable again. I am in an interesting position at the moment as I start a new job and find myself working with kind and energetic folk who want to help me not floor me. I am working in an environment that seeks to foster excellence and promotes scholarship. I am able to combine the development of a new role with systematic research and it feels enabling and liberating. The challenges will be different to ones I have faced in the past but also strangely familiar. Not everyone will agree with what I might be doing and certain attitudes will test my patience. I am excited about learning and improving practices. I hope to share as I start this new journey. 

Recognition

I am reflecting on accolades and why people do what they do, how they treat other people and whether , often, they are just there for the glory. I have worked with folk who are driven by their own vanity and oblivious to the chaos and distress they generate around them. In the last 3 years I have had to question what motivates some very senior people and judge them on how they treat their staff and how they talk about other people. I find it very difficult to be a bystander these days when there is a mismatch between what people say they do and what I see them doing. When I witness a lack of generosity, a total disregard of other people’s skills, a self belief and grandiosity that attracts attention but lacks depth. 

I am mystified by recent observations and have found myself listening to frustration and sorrow from good people who deserve better. I am having to learn how to protect myself from the emotions that rise up when I react to these issues. I did not expect to meet narcissists and selfish glory seekers in health care but that is where I  have encountered them, I think I will find them easier to deal with in other environments and may not be so disappointed by their selfishness and utter contempt for those around them. I have only worked with 2 such individuals in recent years and I hope I don’t get so close again, it leaves you feeling uncomfortable and questioning your judgement of who to work with and from whom you can learn. 

Paying attention

I buy more books and procrastinate, fearful of not knowing enough and making a fool of myself in erudite company. It hasn’t happened yet and I am getting good at emotional regulation and using long words in  front of blokes….

I am reading and noticing a lot as I start work again in a fulfilling and supportive environment. I am aware that although I am new I also know  a lot about teaching and learning and that having a focus and purpose makes all the difference to my well-being. Not sharing my learning is no longer an option, silence is a choice but also privileges the oppressor …

I have had a tough time over the last 3 years, recovering from burnout and bullying. I have begun to gain insight and understanding of what it was all about and my new role enables me to advocate for a different way of working. It is very early days and being kind and compassionate about building  relationships is really important. Working  with others is really helping but also can be demanding. Being surrounded by youthful energy is helpful but also my committment to scholarly enquiry won’t go away. There’s a lot to make sense of and writing this is part of the meaning – making exploration I intend to undertake. 

Back to the start

Been away form the blog for a while because I haven’t been sure what to share in the public domain. However last month I spent National Poetry Day back at Addenbrooke’s hospital where I did my nurse training. I spent the day with Deborah Alma – the Emergency Poet and it was truly FABULOUS. I was completely in my element talking to people about the power of poetry and convincing folk that it isn’t that scary and that it can soothe the soul and replenish the spirit. I talked to parents, patients and senior nurses and medical Consultants. I loved every minute of it and being back at the Hospital I started my nursing seemed to be the right thing to do and gave me plenty to reflect on. I spent all day in sight of the block of flats I lived in when I was 19 and the enormity of my subsequent life journey did not escape my attention that day. It put poetry right at the centre of things and it felt completely right that it was so prominent. I believe that poetry is a powerful resource for good and I will be exploring that more over the next few weeks. I was blown away by the generosity and integrity of the Emergency Poet and found a fellow traveller. I reckon I have a bridging role to play and would like to develop the depth of knowledge around transitions, reflection, poetry, creativity and what transformation is happening. 

It is always a joy to work alongside folk who don’t play games and avoid pretending … I can spot false fronts and fake face-work – it’s exhausting and draining. Using Susan David’s wisdom around emotions being data not directions I am now finding it less of a puzzle in making sense of my responses to other people’s projections and game playing. I find myself less depleted and discouraged – it is a protection and it is one I wish to cultivate. 

Starting again

It’s been a while since I blogged as I haven’t really known what to share and also felt very cautious about having a public presence for ny thoughts. However I have realised that my frustrations and inhibitions often come from fear and if folk don’t agree with me then that will be OK. I also know I don’t take advice very graciously and I need to work on that.

This week marks 3 years since I started an unexpected and largely uncharted journey. I left my role as an effective and respected educator at a University and started as a manager in a small organisation. I thought going back to the “coal face” of health would help me with burn out and help focus me and restore a sense of meaning and purpose.

Well that didn’t go quite as I planned and as the anniversary approaches I am reminded of the learning and unlearning I have undertaken over that time. It has been hugely important and transformative BUT it has not been easy, I have gained some fabulous  friends and have lost a few… In the past I’ve not stayed connected to folk – isolate and exclude myself

As the next stage evolves I am going to start digging a bit deeper and link some of my reflections and explore how they might help other people who are experience transitions in their life/career.

I need to write it down, make the links and put it together in a form that others might read and use as a resource.

Early days but if I state it here then that is a committment to give it a go.

Any typos please let me know ….

Boundaries 

This is the first of a series where I explore “out loud” some of the issues that trigger me and I wish to examine in more detail. 

I believe that boundaries in our personal/professional lives are very important for the maintenance of well-being. My thoughts about this have emerged over the last couple of years and in response to understanding my burn out, stress and subsequent career derailment. Working at the university invited blurred boundaries around when one was at work and when not at work – reading emails at all times of the day and a top trump culture that encouraged working very long hours and being at the computer outside working hours. There were “prizes” for the saddest and weekend blurring was commonplace. I became caught up in this and found it increasingly difficult to not be engaged in work based interactions. I seemed to never be “off duty” and I now know this significantly contributed to my disenchantment and disillusionment and then my decision to leave the University. Going on to work for an organisation with even worse blurred boundaries was a tad ironic BUT it has taught me to be mindful of boundaries and not engage with professional conversations all the time – there has to be down time. For example  I might notice something on social media on a Saturday evening BUT I do not expect that to be followed up with a request to do some work… It may be impulsive and not meant to bother me BUT it does. I really do have to look after myself and my well being in a very active and assertive way. Years of not valuing my own opinions and overlooking my own self care need to be changed and patterns of behaviour altered to derail the negativity and maintain my energy and ensure I stop feeling frustrated, write the book and keep the enjoyment in my job. 

I believe boundaries are important and the ongoing examination of the purpose they serve is essential to ensure safe and effective working. Conversations about these issues come up all the time and my experience is that the unexamined issues are the ones that lead to discontent and troubles.